Over the course of the semester I have been taking a course on Architecture Theory with one of Taubman College's foremost Theorists, Professor Amy Kulper (http://bit.ly/IeZlAl). It is safe to say that this course has blown my mind and has given me a lot to think about as I prepare for thesis next fall.
As part of our final project the students were asked to engage in independent research based around a critical text. My assigned text was "Atlas of Novel Tectonics" by Reiser and Umemoto. The idea was to develop an argument with respect to the text and use that argument to engage in a conceptual and theoretical exploration.
My exploration centers around globalization and a move towards the universally conditioned landscape (as described by Kenneth Frampton). I propose that this could actually be a good thing for architecture and set the stage for tectonics as the new "architecture of resistance."
Enjoy, also please comment because I would love to here feedback.
Kenneth Frampton in his seminal writings on the topic of Critical Regionalism, Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance, describes modern culture and buildings as moving towards a state of civilization that is both universally conditioned and exhaustively optimized by technology. He believes that urban form has become limited by universal building practices and methods which are driven to form by the iconic symbols of modern culture, the highway and the skyscraper. Frampton’s answer to this dilemma is Critical Regionalism, which he describes as, “mediating the impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities or a particular place.” Frampton believes this move towards a critical regionalism can recapture a lost sense of “place” which has become an endangered species as globalization, mass commercialization and the internet moves the world towards homogeneity and the universal.
I would argue here that the problem of globalization, or a move towards the universal, has provided architecture with a unique opportunity in that it threatens to wipe clean all preconditions and preconceived notions of “place” within the landscape. The opportunity arises not from fighting this problem, but by embracing it and empowering architecture to create a new built landscape through redefining “place.” This opportunity is predicated not only on the disillusion of “place” but by the ability of commercialization and globalization to bring together disparate materials and methods into all manners of building. Thus, singularities and exaptions that arise from the novel use of these materials and methods will lead to a new built landscape defined through tectonic manipulations. To seek to fight “placelessness” by looking backwards is both counterproductive and countercultural; to seek to fight “placelessness” by looking forwards and empowering architecture is visionary.
“Architecture of resistance” for Kenneth Frampton involves highlighting regional site and environmental conditions such as light, topography, context and climate as ways to combat “placelessness” and the universal. In the same way Frampton describes these efforts as Critical Regionalism, I would introduce the counterargument of Critical Tectonics, which can be described as celebrating the impact of the universal with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of universal building materials and methods. In the same way that critical regionalism is not a return to the vernacular, critical tectonics is not a return to old regionalisms. It is an attempt to define new regionalisms through the novel adaptation, expression and inventiveness of the built environment. With the form of modern culture and civilization being driven by the automobile and the skyscraper, existing environments and landscapes are having less and less impact on defining “place.” Critical Tectonics capitalizes on the ability of globalization and mass commercialization to bring together wide ranges of building materials and methods. In doing so, Critical Tectonics seeks to foster a deviation from normal systems to produce novelties of both form and function. These singularities can be used to combat “placelessness” by generating new definitions of place. In this way, Critical Tectonics is its own “architecture of resistance.”
The grid can be seen as a representation of the universal. Italian architects of the 1960’s and 1970’s would argue that when placed over all things the grid replaces regionalisms with homogeneity. The work of Superstudio would suggest the grid empties out the possibilities for architecture, answers all its questions. I agree. However, I would further argue it opens the door to new questions, new possibilities. Here, new manipulations are free to emerge without paying homage to existing regionalisms. Architecture can now be used as a strategic tool for placemaking through the generation of entirely new forms predicated on the exploitation of Critical Tectonics.
PS: This post only constitutes my own explorations, after our final presentations and exhibitions tomorrow afternoon I am hoping to post more examples.
I am a graduate student and an entrepreneur at the University of Michigan Taubman College where my studies are focused on leveraging design ideas across multiple scales and platforms. Meeting at the intersection between design, tectonics and fabrication, I am continually exploring how a design idea can navigate complex material and production systems and evolve into fully realized architectural artifacts.